Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Ch. 2" of "Mirrors"

Read Chapter 1 here

(The story really has no chapters. These are arbitrary chapters)

The ancient man had been a legend in this country. No one knew how old he was or where he came from. It was rumored that he had lived for at least a millennium, or even longer. The odd thing was that no one thought it particularly strange that he had lived so long. His specialty was mirrors. He could make every kind of mirror conceivable with the most beautiful and intricate wood designs. But there was something unique about his mirrors. They had a presence to them. When people looked into them they said their most beautiful attributes cloaked them like a garment. His mirrors enhanced the beauty of the looker. But even more so, there was a power that radiated from the mirrors that made the users of the mirrors younger and healthier. There was also another unusual feature about his mirrors. He had made mirrors for hundreds of years and none of them had ever been broken.

It was rumored that he once had a wife. She was the most beautiful woman that ever lived and her love and kindness were unmatched according to the legends. But the story goes that her great love and compassion for all forced her to an early death as she gave all that she had to sustain the lives of all who sought her help. Gratis did not remember her, but she was always with him. Her presence accompanied him. He always heard her voice and had had not a few conversations with her.

The mirror was complete, the wood fitted and polished and the glass imbued with the ancient man’s life-giving force. Gratis then took the mirror and set it in a prominent location in front of the store. It was their usual practice to make the mirrors on demand, but often, his father would make one or two for spontaneous buyers.

At that moment a couple walked in playfully, hand in hand, and giggling uncontrollably. Gratis eyed them suspiciously, he refused to make eye contact with them, hoping that they would leave. He was very discriminating as to whom he sold mirrors to. His father never placed any restrictions on the sale of his mirrors, but Gratis, on the other hand, was sensitive about giving the mirrors to people who were undeserving.

“Hi,” the lady blurted out and giggled some.

Gratis nodded at them, all the while avoiding eye contact, he pretended to be engaged in serious work behind the counter.

“Hi,” she giggled out again. “This is an unusual store, do you sell antiques?” She reached out and touched his hand.

He recoiled from her touch. It was the touch of an unholy person, not like that of his mother which radiated waves of peace.

“Do you sell chairs here?” She asked scanning the store.

“No we don’t ma’am,” Gratis replied in his most stern and unwelcoming voice. She must be drunk, he thought. She seemed unfocused. Her husband in the meantime was wandering the store touching everything. Gratis was losing patience just watching him. The mirror then caught the eye of the lady. “Oh my! Isn’t that beautiful?” She said walking towards it. Gratis panicked and was determined to stop her, there was no way he was going to permit these people to own one his father’s sacred mirrors. He stepped towards the woman to stop her from even looking at the mirror when a firm hand rested on his shoulder. It was his father.

In distress he looked over his shoulder to the aged man whom he loved dearly. The look told him all that he needed to know. He stepped back and let the lady inspect the mirror.

“Honey,” she yelled, piercing the sacred silence of the room, “look over here. It is a really cool mirror. I swear I look much better in it.”

“Not that you ever looked bad, sugar bear,” he winked as he flirted with his wife in the presence of the ancient man and his son. “Would you like it dear?”

“Hmmm . . . well . . . yes!”

“Sir,” the husband swiveled around to Gratis, “wrap that up for her to go.” He spoke with such disregard for the holy man and his son. It was as though he considered them his servants.

The ancient man nodded to his son to do as the guest had asked. Every fiber of Gratis’ being screamed in revulsion, but he couldn’t refuse his father any request. He picked up the mirror barely concealing his watery eyes as the tears welled up within him. He laid out a protective cloth and placed mirror flat on it. The tears flowed freely and splashed on the glass. He didn’t bother to wipe them.

“Thanks!” The lady giggled as she and her husband sauntered out with the precious mirror in hand.

Both Gratis and his father watched as the mirror left the store. Gratis was visibly shaken and drowned in uncontrollable sorrow, his father remained stoic, not revealing a hint of his interior state.

“I’m going to bed,” announced the father. Gratis turned around alarmed, his father had not slept in years. Every now and then, his father did actually sleep but then you could sense the moment coming. In this case there was no premonition that his father needed to sleep.

“Are you okay, father?” He asked hesitatingly.

His father cracked a faint smile, which was meant to be reassuring to his son, and then he walked to the rear of the store and then down to the basement where there was a bed. Gratis then heard the creaking sound of his father lying down on the bed.
Gratis, not sure what to do, lay in his bed across from his father and watched him sleep. The old man’s breathing was labored and his sleep fitful, Gratis cried softly until he fell asleep.

Copyright 2005 Ono Ekeh

Piano Man Update: Still Unidentified


A theory that the so-called Piano Man could be Czech musician Tomas Strnad has been discounted - as Mr Strnad has been interviewed on Czech TV.
Mr Strnad confirmed on screen he was not the mystery character found wandering streets in Kent in April.

The theory had been put forward by Michael Kocab, who thought he had played in a band with the pianist he had seen on news reports from the UK. Mr Kocab now says his theory that Mr Strnad is the Piano Man was a mistake. Mr Strnad lives in Prague and has never been to England.

This is becoming like when David Copperfield made a plane in a hanger dissappear in front of scores of witnesses. At some point you have to say, "sitting airplanes in hangers simply don't dissappear." Likewise here, it can't be that difficult to get an ID on this young man after three weeks and all this publicity. Crunch, crunch, people!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Cardinal Kasper Takes a Swipe at Ratzinger/Benedict

NCR: John Allen

Kasper was also asked to comment on the frustration some Protestants feel, given that the Catholic church does not regard their denominations as a "church" in the full sense of the term. He was asked, does this not imply a negative judgment?

"Of course I take the other seriously," he said, "but I also take seriously that we have different ecclesiologies. It would not be honest to say that we acknowledge you theologically on the same level. On a personal level, I express full recognition of their conviction, but mine is different. This is a matter of respect too."

Referring to the 2000 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, which referred to some Protestant bodies as not churches "in the proper sense," Kasper said he did not think this formula was "quite correct," but said it's accurate to say they are not churches "as we Catholics understand 'church.' "

Get the popcorn, this should get pretty interesting.

The Ambiguity of "Sanction"

I like the word "sanction," and I find that I often want to use it on this blog. The problem is I like it in the positive sense, but that sense of the word is not often used.

"Sanction" means:

Authoritative permission or approval that makes a course of action valid.

"Permission" and perhaps, "approval," are good synonyms.

But then there's also this meaning:

A penalty, specified or in the form of moral pressure, that acts to ensure compliance or conformity.

So, on the one hand, "sanction" is to "approve," on the other hand, it is to "penalize," or "dissapprove."

"We need the Bishops to sanction such actions." Which sense am I using here? . . . wrong!

"The committee sanctioned the idea." Which sense? . . . wrong again! Put yourself out of your pathetic misery, will ya?

Okay, try this.

"This doctrine calls for nothing short of divine sanction." Which sense? . . .

Okay, here's a gimme:

"The administration's sanction for sanctions is an incoherent policy." What sense? What if I said "of" instead of "for"?

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Angry Liberal?

In response to this post, a comment:

In fact, at least amongst the liberal Catholic blogs I've seen, you strike me as one of the more angry ones around. Even though I vehemently disagree, for example, with a lot of what Joe Cecil writes, I don't sense the anger that I see in your posts.

No, no, no, no, no: you don't see much anger on this blog. Anger is a whole other qualitatively different level of speech. What you see on this blog is passion, not unlike you'll see on other activist liberal blogs. The perceived meanness to conservatives comes from being direct and straightforward and honest about what I think.

As far as things I say to and about conservatives and GW Bush. Bush is the worst president in US history and a liar who has caused the deaths of thousands. I only tell the truth about him. AS for conservatives, I have mentioned in a previous post that I drew the line back in 2002 when I decided I was done with the sacramental life of the Church because I can not sit at the same table of Christ with certain conservatives. That was prior to all the shenanigans of the 2004 election.

I do not get angry at conservatives. I am sometimes still shocked at them, but the truth is that I have a very low opinion of Catholic conservatives as a group (I judge conservative individuals by a different far more lenient standard in person). Secondly, I have no desire to be liked or respected by conservatives. Thirdly, harsh things I say about conservatives, I say because I believe them to be true. There are nuances in my views about conservatives but in the midst of flame-throwing, no one's really interested in nuances, most especially when we aren't trying to be friends.

Why? As I mentioned, there's my 2002 decision. But then there's two 2004 events that colored the way I veiw conservatives: the Deal Hudson issue and the Swift Boat Veterans thing. Up till then, I ascribed good misguided intentions to conservatives, but when Hudson did his thing to get me fired, i can assure you that it is a weird feeling to wake up in the morning and know that there are literally thousands of people, conservatives, Jesus-and-Mary-loving Catholics, in this case, who want to destroy your life. I mean that literally. All of sudden you realize that you aren't in Kansas anymore. That changes you. You realize that sweet ol' orthodox conservative Mr and Mrs Smith are not quite as sweet as they would seem. Further, when I left the USCCB, there was rejoicing, so to speak, amongst conservatives. Trust me, that is very strange feeling when you see Christians take joy in your or anyone's misfortune. It makes it clear that you all are not on the same side.

The other event was the Swift Boat Vets against Kerry. These men were simply liars. Everyone knew that they were liars and were engaged in pure calumny against a very good and honorable man. I lost any remaining respect I had for conservative Catholics when they jumped on that bandwagon enthusiastically. It was clear that they were Republican hacks first and Christian . . . fourth and little concern for the common good.

Also, I was 100% disgusted with the way conservative Catholics dealt with Kerry. Here is a man who goes to Mass every Sunday. In fact, he "met" his current wife while at Mass in Brazil at an environmental conference. She noticed someone belting out the songs in attrocious Portuguese and saw it was John Kerry. This is a man who thought about the priesthood, who takes his faith very seriously, and all Catholic conservatives wanted to do was smear him regardless of truth. It is hard to respect people like that. Most especially when their champion, Mr Bush, hardly ever goes to church himself.

Back to anger, this blog and in general, even after the Deal Husdon thing, I was not angry or hateful towards conservatives. I had made a decision about how I felt about them, but anger was not in my mind. In fact, I had a meeting in DC with a couple of Catholic liberal activists who specifically asked if I was interested in going after Hudson, that they'd jump in with me. I declined. My reason? The violence has to stop somewhere. Someone's got to eat it and not retaliate. Even when Hudson's side activities came to light, I got a call from the Washington Post asking for an interview and my reaction. Basically, I told them how I felt, I took not one ounce of pleasure in the whole affair. If I ever felt that I deserved any type of redress against Hudson or the Right, that was not what I wanted. I said something similar to Mike Hayes of Busted Halo.

One thing that political liberals have noted in the past year, is that even though we want to emulate the organization and some of the strategies on the Right, we absolutely do not want to become like them. If you notice in the Democratic Primaries, relatively little personal attacks go on. The meannest charge you'll find in the Democratic Party is that your health plan is weak. (Which is why Dean paid a price for his personal attacks). Democrats generally don't smear and go after people. Republicans on the other hand, base their campaigns precisely on smearing the other candidate. Republican primaries are smear-fests and this carries through to the general election. So while Kerry is speaking about the merits of his education plan, George Bush is thinking of what next to smear him with.

My political approach on this blog and in general is to take no prisoners. Generally, for me, it is a for or against proposition. I am a flame thrower and agitator and relish that role. I am grateful, however, for the people like Jcecil who consider themselves liberal, who enjoy debate, dialog and preserve civility. Quite frankly God did not make me for that. I couldn't enter in such discussions with conservatives even if I tried. For Joe, it is clear that at the end of the day, he is interested in preserving friendship and a positive relationship. I can only envy that skill and desire. I have no such desire. Joe and others maybe the ones who can heal this rift between liberals and conservatives. BTW, if that ever happened,i.e., a healing of the rift, I'm not quite sure what I'd do. I'd be so lost. Can you imagine life with no one to attack? Scary.

I should say in closing that I have actually do have quite a few conservative and very conservative friends in non-blog life. Let's put it this way, we all steer clear of ecclesiastical and secular politics, and do very well.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

John Bolton's Nomination Stalled-A win for Progressive Online Activism

I think the Republicans are startled and worried that this last election has awoken the liberal beast. First, the White House and the Republicans have been absolutely stunned and blindsided by the liberal derailing of the Social Security issue. The clearly underestimated the opposition. Secondly, there was the Bankrupcy bill written by the credit card companies and horrible to regular folks. Normally in the past a bill like that would sail through under the radar. Now, we weren't able to stop them, but we turned it into a fight and shone a light on that bill.

Thirdly, we've stood down the White House abuse of power with the judges thing. However, things shake out, the compromise deal was a blow to the Republicans. Fourthly, we've stalled the John Bolton nomination. Why? There are scores and scores of very eminently qualified conservative and neo-conservative people out there who would do a great job at the UN. However, this administration picked the worst possible person, someone who's stated objective is to dismantle the UN. This guy is so bad that even Senator Voinovich of Ohio has strongly urged his colleagues to not vote for this guy. This is not simply Democratic obstruction, this guy is legitimately bad news.

I am getting more confident about Democratic online activism and its potential. Hopefully, we'll be in full form in 2006. There is a man called Rick Santorum who compared Democrats to Hitler (not quite dissimilar to a certain Bishop in Colorado who said Democrats are dancing with the devil). Well, Mr. Santorum, you will be hearing from us . . . shortly.

Japanese WWII Vets Found in Jungle

Japanese soldiers found in jubgle

Japanese officials in the Philippines are interviewing two men who claim to be Japanese soldiers living in the jungle since the end of World War II.
The pair, now in their 80s, were found on the southern island of Mindanao.

They reportedly said they wanted to return to Japan, but were afraid of facing a court martial.

In 1974, a Japanese soldier, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, was found in the Philippines jungle, unaware that the war had ended 29 years previously.

'Incredible if true'

The two men on Mindanao had contacted a Japanese national who was collecting the remains of war dead on Mindanao, according to government sources. They had equipment which suggested they were former soldiers.

"It is an incredible story if it is true," Japan's consul general in Manila, Akio Egawa, told the AFP news agency.

"They were found, I believe, in the mountains near General Santos on Mindanao Island. "At this stage we are not saying either way whether or not these two men are in fact former soldiers. We may be in a better position later today," he said.

Brutal occupation

Mindanao has seen more than two decades of Muslim rebellion and many areas are out of central government control.

Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and set up a brutal puppet government. In the closing months of the war, there was heavy fighting with US troops in the mountainous, heavily forested islands.

The Sankei Shimbun daily said the men would most likely be members of the Panther division, 80% of whom were killed or went missing during the final months of the war. It speculated there could be as many as 40 Japanese soldiers living in similar conditions in the Philippines.

When Lt Onoda was found on the Philippines island of Lubang in 1974, he initially refused to surrender. Only when his former commanding officer was flown over from Japan did he agree to leave the jungle. He later emigrated to Brazil.

Just and Unjust War

I hardly ever talk about Just War theory. Why? Because, with all due respect, I think the whole thing is baloney. I think we need to discard the notion of Just and Unjust war and replace it with a new way of thinking.

First of all, war is never just, as in acceptable, righteous, etc. It is hell for everyone involved.

The only relevant value-based category is not an essentially moral category, but a political one: necessary or unnecessary. That's it. We should guage wars or the desire to wage a war on if it is necessary or unnecessary.

Now, a quick note. The Just War theory suffers from the ambiguity of the term "just." "Just" can be used in the sense of "righteous" or morally-bound. The other sense of "Just" is "justified," i.e., acceptable. I would resonate with the second sense of the word but without any moral overtones. The positive necessity of a war does not grant it immunity from its intrinsic evil. There is absolutely nothing good about war. The converse is that peace and cooperation are the alternatives that we seek.

This of course flies in the face of fundamental Catholic moral principle which I also reject, "we cannot do evil that good may come of it." That is, if war is intrinsically evil, then we can't engage in it under any circumstances. That quite simply is impossible. In this life, you back away from one pile of crap only to squish into another. There is no avoiding it. So its best to evaluate then the different piles and navigate accordingly. Thus, when we fight wars that we deem are necessary, and this will be very infrequent, we do not fool ourselves into thinking we are doing a good thing: we are doing a necessary thing or a worthy thing.

Another way to look at this is that war is the action of a body politic of some sort and not an individual. War is a political action and falls under a different rubric of moral evaluation which really only allows for the categories of necessary or unnecessary.

When war is understood in terms of necessary or unnecessary, then the calculus that goes into evaluating it is much clearer and yeilds more reasonable and favorable results, less war and or milder wars, eventually the elimination of war.

Liberals by Nature, Liberals by Choice

I was responding to a comment by David B and I realized I might as well make it a post:


David B. commented in response to my post on feeling victimized by car salespersons:

Gee, Ono, you sound like a liberal. "I'm powerless. I'm a victim. Poor me." If it bugs you when this happens, just tell him he can't do anything to put you in a car today. Turn around, and walk away. LOL!

If our problem as liberals is that we are polite and nice, I'll take that. I'm an anger-management, pansy Christian liberal and darn proud of it. If I wasn't, maybe I wouldn't be alive today. (Okay, I'm on the couch now.) FYI, as young one, I was told I was evil by a family member (matter of fact disclosure, nothing mean intended). Another very close family member told me I was going to end up being a criminal and btw, it's not like I'd ever done anything bad. It was just my vibes, my brooding nature, high revenge factor and my ability to hate.

Many people may not know this feeling, but I *knew* I was going to hell just for being the hateful person that I was. It is a strange feeling for an eight year old or an eleven year old to have, but I had that sense. I knew that I needed help or I'd end up on the wrong side of things: no, not as a drug dealer. I wanted to control the whole enterprise. I had an incredible lust for power.

When I got born again at the age of 13, my anger and hate were the first things I noticed had gone away. The world was a more peaceful place and I've never forgotten that. Since then, my life has been about pursuing the Fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians 5. It is very much a struggle, but someone like me with the natural disposition I have, has no choice. This is why I am a firm believer in the Holy Spirit and Christ. I am a changed person and believe that anyone can be changed.

Anyway, the one lesson I learned since my born again experience is that everything depends on patience. My watch word is to be patient, don't say anything when you're angry, don't storm out of rooms or meetings, try to to at least see where people are coming from (very hard for me because most people are wrong, simple, and I'm right). What this has done for me is remarkable, I don't think the same types of thoughts that I did many years ago, etc.

For me, giving into anger is a frightening thing. When I was younger I could obsess for months how I could enact revenge on someone without ever paying the price and I could be extremely, extremely patient in execution. This is what Christ delivered me from and this is why I avoid confrontation like the plague, to avoid getting angry.

So, if and when I err on the side of being less pushy, less rude and nice, I thank God and prefer it to being evil. Now, it doesn't stop the bubbling stream of profanity welling up in the chest, but that stream sure as hell has no outlet. All this to say then, that when the car saleswoman, in this case, says, "what can I do to get you in car today," what she doesn't know is that by not listening to me she has set ablaze a boiling cauldron underneath and I have no choice but to shut up or else, give in to the anger. Anger is not an option. That is powerlessness, but in a good way. Especially because when that first wave of anger passes, you gain even more mastery over yourself and you can then chose to love.I can't control when I get angry or when the instinct of hate arises, but I can withstand it and then decide what I *want* my reaction to be.

As for the political aspect of this. As I see it, when this attempt at patience, resisting anger and hate, is translated into policy and politics, it translates as liberal/progressive (for me and . . by and large). I tried being conservative before and the truth was that I was simply appealing to the baser and angry part of myself and not the better part that called for patience and understanding and the will and choice to love.

I do not consider myself a liberal by "nature", my natural disposition may be more conservative-libertarian. I am a liberal by choice, in the sense that being liberal is what I want to be. When I look at what characteristics I want to possess, what would make my life meaningful, it by and large translates to the liberal part of the spectrum.

I think that there are people who are liberal by nature. I'm not clear what I mean by that, just that there is something suited to "liberalism" in their disposition and it doesn't take much effort. For instance, I hardly ever speak about the abolishing of the death penalty, I leave that to others because I feel nothing about it. Truth is, there is a part of me that approves the revenge factor. But what I do know is that revenge is not what I want to be about and it is my choice to embrace opposition to the death penalty.

In conclusion, the Marxist/Hegelian in me makes me believe that there is no Kingdom of God that is going to come down. We are in it. This world, this earth is what is going to evolve into the Kingdom of God that we pray for in the Lord's prayer. When push comes to shove, the evolution to that kingdom is the liberal/progressive path. It would mean more cooperation, solidarity, kindness, compassion, understanding, love, patience, acceptance, etc on the individual and societal level.

New Book by David Neiwert of Orcinus Blog

Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community

My third book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, is now being shipped by Amazon and other online sellers. It will be hitting the bookstore shelves on June 1.

I'm especially pleased about this, since I've been working on this book since 1992, when I first wrote the newspaper series for the old Bellevue Journal American which gave the book its origins. I first produced a manuscript in 1994, and have been working on refining and improving it over the ensuing years, when I wasn't working on my other books. I interviewed 28 different internees and Bellevue community members over the years, and I conducted a great deal of archival research as well.

If you can support a fellow liberal please do so. This is have we strengthen the progressive movement by supporting progressive activity like this. Besides he is a great writer and has some very good stuff.

New Hostage-Taking Virus Virus Out There

Trojan holds PC files for ransom

A unique new kind of malicious threat which locks up files on a PC then demands money in return for unlocking them has been identified. The program, Trojan.Pgpcoder, installs itself on a vulnerable computer after users visit certain websites. It exploits a known vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).

Net security firm Symantec said the program had not spread quickly, but was another example of rising criminal extortion activity on the net. The malware - harmful software - was first identified by US net security firm Websense.

Ransom note

The program, once it installs itself unbeknown to a user, triggers the download of an encoder application which searches for common types of files on a computer and networked drives to encrypt.

When a file is encrypted, usually for security and privacy purposes, it can only be decrypted with specific instructions. The trojan replaces a user's original files with locked up ones, so that they are inaccessible. It then leaves a "ransom note" in a text file.

Instructions to release the files are only handed over when a ransom fee is paid, according to Websense. The electronic note left on the computer gives details of how to meet the demands via an online account.


I think I picked up a virus a coupe of months ago and it is a horrible feeling. I had to buy anti-virus software and think between that and repeated spyware and adware scans, I got rid of it, but my computer has never been the same since then.

I think hackers and virus people are . . . I don't know what word to use. "Evil" comes to mind. Most peoples computers are their lives. It's just wrong.

Now, to catch a virus and then have to pay to get your stuff back: now, that is cold.


So, Carrie Underwood it is: our new American Idol. Someone is going to have to sit down with her and tell her to lose the curl hair. She was certainly not dressed the part tonite. She has a terrible sense of image or is allowing people with a terrible idea of image to create her image. She needs to get back to natural and simple.

I did predict she would though, right from the start. The moment she auditioned I called it. yes, I want a cookie.


Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat: did anyone, anyone, know about this guy last year? Just amazing. I do see Detroit winning the next three games. Miami gave it their best shot and one, but they can't sustain this effort against Detroit. Detroit is a crazy team in that, like San Antonio, their defensive stars are far from a liability on offense. On any given day, Rip Hamilton or Rasheed Wallace (both Washington cast aways) can give you 20+ points. Chauncy Billups is no pushover offensively, neither is Teshaun Prince. And then you have Ben Wallace who can give you 10 or so a night.

Detroit v San Antonio, San Antonio in a convincing seven.


Alias season finale

Well, well, well! So Michael Vaughn is not what he seems. Now that's a contrived but fascinating story line. At least this season ended with good suspense. The first season finale was the mother of all, when Sidney met her mom. The second season when Sidney woke up two years later in Taiwan was crap and stupid, but now we are back in business. Irena Derevko is out on the loose again, Sloan is back to his tricks, and now Vaughn is a bad guy. Not bad. There will be a season four.



We taped it and are only half way through the season finale. The pattern in 24 is that the women try to be tough and bad, but when tough things happen, they completely fall apart and become unglued. Summary, women are weak and should not be put in sensitive positions that require extreme stress. Someone on that show needs to get a clue. The unglued woman syndrome gets old after a while.

This was clearly their worst season ever and it is hard to see where they'll go from here. I hope I can wean myself off the show next season.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Maryland Laws Still On the Books

Via dkos

Baltimore, MD

It's illegal to take a Lion to the movies

It is a violation of city code to sell chicks or ducklings to a minor within 1 week of the Easter holiday.

Ocean City, MD

Eating while swimming in the ocean is prohibited.

Rockville, MD

It is illegal to remove a public building by writing on it.

Find your state dumb laws here

Check this out from Maine

Shotguns are required to be taken to church in the event of a Native American attack


When I hear the following words from a car saleperson, I have this feeling of dread, a thanatic sense of impending doom:

"Ono, what can I do to put you in a car today?"

While most people may feel at this point that they have sufficiently broken the sales person so that things are now proceeding on their terms, I feel different. I feel like hostage. I feel like someone is not respecting my wishes. I feel that inappropriate advances are being made and I am powerless to stop them. I feel . . . violated.

Voyager Close to the Edge

Voyager Pushes for Deep Space

The Voyager 1 probe is getting very close to the edge of the Solar System. Launched in 1977, the craft is now some 14 billion km (8.7 billion miles) from the Sun and on the cusp of deep space.

American space agency (Nasa) scientists told a conference in New Orleans on Tuesday that Voyager was moving through a region known as the heliosheath.

This is a vast, turbulent expanse where the Sun's influence ends and particles blown off its surface crash into the thin gas that drifts between the stars.

Soon - researchers cannot be sure when - the probe will break into deep space.
"Voyager 1 has entered the final lap on its race to the edge of interstellar space," said Dr Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, US.

Last November, scientists debated whether Voyager had reached the so-called termination shock region. This is where the "wind" of electrically charged particles coming off the Sun is slowed by pressure from the sparse gas found between the stars.

At the termination shock, the solar wind slows abruptly from a speed that ranges from 1.1-2.4 million km/h (700,000 to 1.5 million mph) and becomes denser and hotter. Some researchers thought the probe had arrived at the shock; others thought it still had some way to go.

Now, at the 2005 Joint Assembly meeting organised by the American Geophysical Union, space scientists say they are confident - and agreed - that Voyager has gone beyond the termination shock and is flirting with deep space. Predicting the location of the termination shock was hard, the researchers say, because the precise conditions in interstellar space are unknown.

Also, changes in the speed and pressure of the solar wind cause the termination shock to expand, contract and ripple.

The most persuasive evidence that Voyager 1 has crossed the termination shock is its measurement of a sudden increase in the strength of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind, combined with an inferred decrease in its speed. This happens whenever the solar wind slows down.

Voyager 1 was initially given a mission life of five years but has continued to perform spectacularly.

The craft is carrying a time capsule in the form of a golden gramophone record, complete with stylus, which contains a recording of greetings from Earth in different languages as well as samples of music ranging from Mozart to singer Blind Willie Johnson.

Its twin, Voyager 2, launched a couple of weeks before Voyager 1, is moving on a different trajectory and is some 10.4 billion km (6.5 billion miles) away.

Check out this cool graphic from BBC:

I'm excited and all about this, but the truth is that we are not going to make any extraterrestrial contact until we can produce a warp signature. I'm not sure what part of that is unclear to NASA. This has been a fabulous experimental, but a grand failure. We need to focus our resources on warp technology so that we can get the attention of more advanced aliens who occaisionally pass by.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sex Ed Issues in China

China's dangerous sexual ignorance

In one cafe in southern China, pictures of naked women hang on the walls - a rare sight in this country.
But that is what this cafe is all about. It was set up by the City Government Reproductive Health Centre, and is an attempt to bring sex education into the open.

The centre's director, Tao Lin, showed me the services on offer - free condoms, and books and information about sex.

This drop-in sex education cafe is a pioneering concept, the first of its kind in China. Yet, it is almost completely empty.

Tao Lin admitted the hardest thing was breaking the taboo surrounding sex.

"Our challenge is that people are still too shy to talk about sex. It is difficult to know the right approach. People use tabloids or websites to find out information about sex, but it is often incorrect or unreliable," he said.

Out of sight

One survey has suggested that 75% of young Chinese learn about sex through pornography or porn websites, and computers certainly offer young people the chance to find out about sex in private.

In the back of the cafe, three young women are tapping away at keyboards.

"I want to find out about contraception, what choice there is, and how to use it," said 22-year-old pharmacology student Wu Dinliang, blushing.

She said she had never been taught about contraception.

Counsellor Tang Weiyao confirmed that even the most highly educated Chinese could be ignorant about sex.

"I had two university students who had been married for two years and hadn't managed to have children. They went to the hospital for a check-up and it emerged that they didn't even know the first thing about sex. They thought simply sleeping in the same bed would get her pregnant," she said.

Yikes! Honestly, I am not making fun of anyone here. I've had this blog for a few years and there has been little, if any, sex talk here, and I can guarantee that they might even be less going forward. Adam and Eve were hiding for a reason. But, how is it that you sleep with your spouse and . . . you know . . . expect to get pregnant BVM style. Is it that . . . unobvious?

This is an interesting case for the natural law folks. I've always argued that things we take for granted as being natural are really cultural conditioning. We simply aren't aware how much information we absorb from the culture around us. And, by the way, I'm not talking about a west-east, etc, thing. I'm just talking about a case, this case like many other cultural situations, in which sex is such a taboo that one can go into a marriage and not understand how things work.

The Fading Promise of Worm Holes

Wormhole 'no use' for time travel

For budding time travellers, the future (or should that be the past?) is starting to look bleak.

Hypothetical tunnels called wormholes once looked like the best bet for constructing a real time machine.

These cosmic shortcuts, which link one point in the Universe to another, are favoured by science fiction writers as a means both of explaining time travel and of circumventing the limitations imposed by the speed of light.

The concept of wormholes will be familiar to anyone who has watched the TV programmes Farscape, Stargate SG1 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The opening sequence of the BBC's new Doctor Who series shows the Tardis hurtling through a "vortex" that suspiciously resembles a wormhole - although the Doctor's preferred method of travel is not explained in detail.

But the idea of building these so-called traversable wormholes is looking increasingly shaky, according to two new scientific analyses.

Remote connection

A common analogy used to visualise these phenomena involves marking two holes at opposite ends of a sheet of paper, to represent distant points in the Universe. One can then bend the paper over so that the two remote points are positioned on top of each other.

If it were possible to contort space-time in this way, a person might step through a wormhole and emerge at a remote time or distant location.
The person would pass through a region of the wormhole called the throat, which flares out on either side.

According to one idea, a wormhole could be kept open by filling its throat, or the region around it, with an ingredient called exotic matter.

This is strange stuff indeed, and explaining it requires scientists to look beyond the laws of classical physics to the world of quantum mechanics.

Exotic matter is repelled, rather than attracted, by gravity and is said to have negative energy - meaning it has even less than empty space.

Law breaker

But according to a new study by Stephen Hsu and Roman Buniy, of the University of Oregon, US, this method of building a traversable wormhole may be fatally flawed. In a paper published on the arXiv pre-print server, the authors looked at a kind of wormhole in which the space-time "tube" shows only weak deviations from the laws of classical physics.

These "semi-classical" wormholes are the most desirable type for time travel because they potentially allow travellers to predict where and when they would emerge.

Wormholes entirely governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, on the other hand, would likely transport their payloads to an undesired time and place.
Calculations by the Oregon researchers show a wormhole that combines exotic matter with semi-classical space-time would be fundamentally unstable.

This result relies in part on a previous paper in which Hsu and Buniy argued that systems which violate a physical principle known as the null energy condition become unstable.

"We aren't saying you can't build a wormhole. But the ones you would like to build - the predictable ones where you can say Mr Spock will land in New York at 2pm on this day - those look like they will fall apart," Dr Hsu said.


Darn! My entire novel in the works about time travel--down the drain. Flush. Just kidding. I am doing time travel, but thankfully, no wormholes.

Monday, May 23, 2005

John Henry Newman on Interreligious Issues

It may be objected, that, if the feeling of a good conscience be evidence to us of our justification, then are persons in a justified state who are external to the Church, provided they have this feeling. I reply briefly,--for to say much here would be out of place,--that everyone will be judged according to his light and his privileges; and any man who has really the testimony of a good conscience is acting up to his light, whatever that is. . . It but shows that he is accepted in that state in which he is, be it one of greater favour or less, heathenism, schism, superstision, or heresy; and that, because his faults and errors at present are not wilful.

John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons Volume V, "Sermon 17: The Testimony of Conscience."

"I bargain for nothing"

But when he really gives himself up to God, when he gets himself honestly to say, "I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: make me what Thou wouldest have me; I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek for no previous information whither Thou are taking me; I will be what Thou wilt make me, and all that Thou wilt make me.

John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons, Volume V, "Sermon 17: The Testimony of Conscience."

Mmm, mmm, good!

Campbell profit up on strong soup sales

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE:CPB - news) on Monday posted a 3 percent rise in quarterly profit, helped by improved sales of its well-known red-and-white-label condensed soup and a recent price increase.

Earnings topped Wall Street estimates, and shares of Campbell, the largest U.S. soup maker, rose more than 2 percent to a three-and-a-half-year high.

Cool weather in parts of the United States, new in-store shelving, and higher prices fueled a 4 percent increase in sales of Campbell's condensed soup during the spring period, when sales are typically slower due to warmer weather.

Sales of ready-to-serve soups, however, dropped 6 percent amid stiff competition from rival General Mills Inc.'s (NYSE:GIS - news) Progresso soups, lower promotional spending, and shipment declines aggravated by the higher prices.

Campbell posted a profit of $146 million, or 35 cents a share, in the fiscal third quarter ended May 1, compared with $142 million, or 34 cents a share, including a one-time gain a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had forecast 33 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Quarterly sales rose 4 percent to $1.7 billion, in part on strong demand for Pepperidge Farm cookies and breads as well as Campbell's upscale Godiva chocolates.

Pepperidge Farm cookies are darn expensive, but I swear to all that can be sworn to, you take bite of one of their oatmeal or choclate chip cookies (and I can't stand chocolate chip) and boy, it's smooth sailing from there as you frantically stuff your self with 8 cookies that cost you $6. Also with Godiva choclates, I know they're good, but Lord Almighty! $1.7 billion?? Someone needs to sit down with the nutrionist.

Let me go on record as saying that there should be a tax on chocolate. Any purchase that consists of 6 or more ounces of chocolate, especially non dark chocolate, should be have to pay a sin-tax of 1 cent per ounce. Hey, we do it with ciggarettes.

Apples and Intel to Wed

Apple May Use Intel Chip in Macs

Okay, I'm not even going to pretend that I am that interested in what Apple or Intel do. I really do not care. What I do care about is this:

Notice the uptick in the last month. Could an $28 Intel be on the horizon? Intel, is a can't miss stock. They are sitting on boatloads of cash. They have insignificant debt. They have very good marketing. And . . . technology is not going anywhere. If there is a long term stock to invest in, it would be Intel. Their PE ration is 22, which is not "expensive" (PE's have been used as a value-guage. 20-30 are what you look for. The smaller the number, the "cheaper" the stock.)

AMD is Intel's key rival and from what I understand, they make better chips, but their marketing is not all that great. Intel has branded itself and that will pay off: think "intel inside" and the four-note accompaniment even in computer ads. People are associating "intel inside" as a seal of quality and overtime, it only works in their favor.

Also sitting on that much cash means that Intel can turn up the R&D or marketing whenever it so desires and they can always make all important acquisitions when scoping out new markets or technologies. So there you have it, I like Intel to outperform the market over the next 60 years.

Recommendation: buy, only if you have an extra $30,000 sitting around with absolutely no where else to spend it and you have determined that all charity cases in the world have no present need of that amount of money.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Purge Continues: Jesuit Staffer Forced Out

Via Andrew Sullivan

Article on homosexuals costs staffer his job

Erik Meder was asked to resign his post with the U.S. Jesuit Conference because of an article he wrote for a Jesuit national newsletter that advocated the church have an open dialogue with homosexuals about homosexuality.

Meder told NCR that as soon as the article, “Strangers No Longer: Who is the Other among us?” appeared in the in the April/May 2005 issue of National Jesuit News (see story), he was called into the offices of Jesuit Fr. Jim Stormes, his immediate supervisor, and Jesuit Fr. Tom Gaunt, the executive secretary, or socius, of the U.S. Jesuit Conference.

“I was asked to resign or be terminated for submitting the article,” Meder said. “Because the article was already printed, it had caused, it was explained to me, ‘irreparable harm to the Society of Jesus in the United States.’ ”


I feel like Maria Von Trapp

"The Hills are alive with the sound of music . . ."

Oh, the fresh air, the openness, the comfort, the love of the Benedict regime!

First, Snake Head, then Asian Carp: Are most Asian fish this voracious?

It's Asian Carp Against the Current

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- These fish jump. Oh, how they jump. It's common for an Asian carp to leap four feet out of the water and flop into whatever may rumble into its path, be it watercraft or fisherman. They also make a big splash. A 60-pounder is not unusual.

"Every day we go out on the water, the number of fish we see jumping around the boat is just astounding. It's incomprehensible," said Mark Pegg, a fisheries biologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey. "You just have to see it to realize there are that many fish jumping around you."

Near the Illinois River, Pegg and his colleagues inspected a 43-pound female, which he described as "a small one." She was carrying 2.2 million eggs, and she had plenty of company. "There were hundreds, if not thousands, of large females in this one inlet we were sampling."

The Asian carp is sowing fear in marine biologists and fishermen. Descendants of the fish, imported from China 30 years ago by catfish farmers in the deep South, escaped their pens when floodwaters rose and have been swimming north and procreating ever since, each day consuming as much as 50 percent of their body weight in plankton and other microorganisms.

The danger, experts say, is that the voracious jumping carp will overrun the waterways and other fish will starve to death. Here along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a gateway to the Great Lakes, government authorities hope to shock the carp into submission.


At a construction cost of $9 million and an annual expense of $500,000, state and federal engineers are electrifying 500 feet of water to prevent the Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan. Crews are using heavy cranes to lay 84 steel belts at the bottom of the 160-foot-wide canal. Transformers equipped with backup generators will juice the metal and create a pulsing electrical field.


Here in the DC area we had to deal with the Snakehead.

There's even a scifi movie about Snakehead fish.

Snakeheads can "walk" on land and the Asian carp can jump 4 feet in the air. Is this typical of aquatic species in Asian waters? Of course, it's not all bad. Maryland is working on introducing an Asian species of oyster to replace the sickly Chesapeake oyster. From what they say, the Asian specie is disease resistant. Of course there are lots of debates about how safe, etc. I imagine after we've introduced, we find out that they grow to four feet and they eat humans that try to eat them.

"Hi honey, here's a fresh oyster for you."

"Don't you think that oyster is a little large?"

"Oh dear, I knew you'd appreciate the size. Figures to be quite yummy."

"Oh, honey, its opening up. It's moving!!! It's eating . . . me . . . arrrggghhhhh!"



When your boss is not the sharpest pencil in the box, keep him out of the loop

Well, that's what happened when the President was enjoying a midday bike ride and Washington came under a terrorist threat. His wife, Nancy Reagan and thousand others were deemed to be at risk, but it was determined that the President of the United States was best kept uninformed about a potential terrorist strike against the White House, or something else in Washington DC.

Well, Douglass McKinnon, Bob Dole's former press secretary says,Trust me, he needs to know. What a generous kind way to tell the POTUS to get a clue.

Okay, here's the scenario: You're a husband who's away on a short trip while your wife stays at home entertaining a very important visitor and a variety of other friends. Suddenly, the police rush into your house and scream at everyone to evacuate the premises immediately or they may all die. Strangely, even though the police and others have your cell phone number and know exactly where you are, they decide for mysterious reasons not to tell you that your wife, your friends and your home could be destroyed in the coming minutes.

Two questions come immediately to mind: Wouldn't you want to know instantly that your spouse and others close to you were in danger? And second, wouldn't you create a whole new category of "smoke-coming-out-of-your-ears angry" if you found out that the authorities had deliberately kept this information from you?

This is basically what happened to President Bush a little over a week ago. On May 11, while the president was bicycling in Maryland, the Secret Service and the U.S. military thought that Washington might be under terrorist attack. And all involved decided not to tell the president that his wife, his friends and his home -- not to mention hundreds of people who work for him and for U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as thousands of tourists innocently taking snapshots at the White House gates and on the Capitol steps -- were possibly in imminent danger. They didn't let him know until some 40 minutes after the "all-clear" had been sounded. Who in the world has the authority to make that call? Nobody, in my opinion.


Since this is Washington, and these same reporters do like a good conspiracy theory, some started to speculate about the protocols McClellan kept talking about. They wondered if one of the unmentioned ones was to explicitly not tell the president that a plane was about to crash into the White House so that he would have deniability when the order was given to shoot it down. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, Washington is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma . . . on steroids.

McClellan basically ended his personal nightmare by saying, "Anytime there is a situation like this, there is going to be a review undertaken . . . and if there are any improvements that need to be made, they will be made."

Great answer. And right off the bat, I can think of one improvement. That being, if our nation is under attack, or if his wife and the capital are about to be vaporized, please, please, please, notify our commander-in-chief immediately!!! Other than that, I'm good.

I supppose after his September 11 deer-in-the-headlights, my-pet-goat, performance, it was determined an ignorant president is more PR acceptable than an incompetent one. But either way, neither option is terribly impressive.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

NARAL Overplays Its Hand

Ha! I laugh

This thread at daily kos says it all.

Remember how NARAL helped drive Jim Langevin out of the senate race in Rhode Island? The argument was that we needed to have a pro-choice nominee. Well, Langevin is no longer in the race and guess what? NARAL turned around and endorsed Linc Chafee. So much for NARAL. Thus, as Ezra Klein points out, the Dems had nothing to lose in nominating Langevin. And, as he goes on to note, abortion rights would not have suffered even if he had won. Here's hoping Langevin reconsiders and enters the race.

Judging from the thread, Democrats are not happy with this backstab from NARAL. What is particularly interesting is that it is liberal Democrats sickened by NARAL. I think NARAL is playing a game with the Democratic Party. They are upset by the Party's recent pro-life friendly moves and so they pulled this to show that they can punish the party, knowing that the Democrats need them.

However, in their foolishness, they turned their liberal allies against, now the Party can stick it to NARAL at no cost or penalty. Someone at NARAL lost a few brain hinges.

Besides any organization so dumb as to preserve such a caustic name that sounds like "nasal" or "anal" can't be expected to operate rationally. Planned Parenthood is a positive name. NARAL sounds like purgative medication.

Does anyone else think, like me, that

Archbishop Chaput is seriously auditioning for the Washington job?

Bishop Steib and the Gays


Bishop Steib of Memphis has stirred a crap storm on a conservative blog because he is initiating a gay outreach ministry. More power to him.

I like Bishop Steib, he is more likely to tell you what's on his mind than not. It's a gutsy move for Memphis.

Besides he looks like President Palmer of 24. Don't you think?

"Why care about the environment when the rapture is imminent?"

Oh wait! No, I did not quite say that!

James Watt, former Reagan Interior Secretary, in Washington Post column defends himself:

Their tactics are familiar. I encountered them more than 20 years ago as President Reagan's secretary of the interior, when I clashed with extreme environmental groups adept at taking out of context -- or in some cases creating -- statements that, once twisted, were attributed to me as if they were my religious views.

Now political activists of the religious left are refreshing those two-decades-old lies and applying them with a broad brush to whole segments of the Christian community: "people who believe the Bible," members of Congress and "Rapture proponents." If these merging groups -- the extreme environmentalists and the religious left -- are successful in their campaign, the Christian community will be marginalized, its conservative values maligned and its electoral clout diminished.


Okay, here is the "this allegations as presented are without merit" denial.

If such a body of belief exists, I would totally reject it, as would all of my friends. When asked who believed such error, where adherents to this "false gospel" might be found, the NCC turned to its theological sources, Moyers and a magazine called Grist, which had also apologized to me. I then contacted the chairman of the NCC task force and asked him about the "some people" who believe this false gospel and the "proud preachers" advancing this false gospel. He could not name such persons.

Again, one of those conservative type lies. We all remember the 2002 Bush administration lie, "There is no plan on the president's desk to go to war." Yeah. It was in his secretary's drawer.

Let's face it. Watt, as with the Evangelical rapture crowd, cares little for the environment because Christ is coming anyway, and Revelations foretells the destruction of the earth. Heck, why preserve something that is going to destroyed anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Introducing the reDiscovery Institute

Via Leiter Reports

Here's the website for the reDiscovery Institute

The reDiscovery Institute is non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy think-tank located in Tacoma, Washington, with branches in Atlanta, Georgia and Fort Worth, Texas. The reDiscovery Institute fosters integration of science education with traditional Judeo-Christian principles of free market, limited government, morality, faith, property, obedience and anti-intellectualism.

Our primary focus is to extend and promote Design Theories, which have been so successful in Biology, to the fields of Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology, Atmospheric Science, Oceanography, Material Science, Acoustics, Condensed Matter Physics, Fluid Dynamics, Nuclear Physics, Anthropology and Mathematics.

These guys mean business. They are taking on the Periodic table and the Solar System in order to get "both sides" of the debate.

Stems Cells Already Created

Scientists clone human stem cells from patients

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Korean scientists who cloned the first human embryo to use for research said on Thursday they have used the same technology to create batches of embryonic stem cells from nine patients.

Their study fulfills one of the basic promises of using cloning technology in stem cell research -- that a piece of skin could be taken from a patient and used to grow the stem cells.

Researchers believe the cells could one day be trained to provide tailored tissue and organ transplants to cure juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease and even to repair severed spinal cords. Unlike so-called adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells have the potential from the beginning to form any cell or tissue in the body.

Woo Suk Hwang and colleagues at Seoul National University report their process is much more efficient than they hoped, and yielded 11 stem cell batches, called lines, from six adults and three children with spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes and a rare immune disorder.

"This study shows that embryonic stem cells can be derived using nuclear transfer from patients with illness ... regardless of sex or age," Hwang told reporters in a telephone briefing.

"I am amazed at how much they have accomplished in just a year and the amount, the quality and the rigorousness of their evidence," Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, a stem cell expert who reviewed the study, said in a telephone interview.


Well the cats out of the bag. I think politicians should ignore the Catholic Church (unless it changes it's tune to a more pragmatic stance). This cat is not going back in the bag. The U.S. government needs to get in on the ground floor so that international ethical standards can be set. As long as we stay out and get preachy about the morality of stem cell research, individual nations and entities will continue work and it would be much harder to restrain anything as the field expands.

I do believe in therapeutic cloning, which from what I understand and have read is a different animal than human cloning. But this is not the type of thing that needs to go on unsupervised and if the US Government in tandem with the EU, the Asian block, Canada, perhaps South Africa, Russia and other big guns, don't get in now, it'll be too late later.

Bush Promises Probe into Saddam Underwear Pictures

Semper ubi, sub ubi!


LONDON (Reuters) - Washington promised an investigation on Friday into how pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underpants were splashed across the front-page of Britain's biggest-selling daily newspaper.

The imprisoned former Iraqi leader appeared on the front of the Sun, naked except for a pair of white briefs and holding a pair of trousers in his hand.

The Sun quoted U.S. military sources as saying they had handed over the pictures "in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq."

Other photographs showed Saddam, with short, dyed-black hair and a mustache, washing clothes by hand and asleep on his bed.

The photos later appeared in the New York Post. Both papers are owned by Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch.

A U.S. military statement said the pictures might be a year old. They contravened Saddam's rights as a prisoner and could have broken the Geneva Convention, the military statement said.

"Multi-National Forces-Iraq is disappointed at the possibility that someone responsible for the security, welfare, and detention of Saddam would take and provide these photos for public release," the statement said.

"This lapse is being aggressively investigated to determine, if possible, who took the photos, and to ensure existing procedures and directives are complied with to prevent this from happening again," it said.

The White House said President Bush had been told of the pictures and "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already under way."

Saddam's lawyers expressed outrage.

What to say. How dumb do you have to be to do something like this in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Koran-flushing scandal? I am exercising mush restraint from unleashing the persistent bubbling stream of profanity I feel in my chest.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Black Squirels in Washington DC

An Exotic Evolution

Black Squirrels Imported in Early 1900s Gain Foothold

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005; B01

Because the history of Washington has been written by humans, nobody has paid much attention to the fact that 18 Canadian squirrels were released at the National Zoo during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

But, if the capital's story were ever told by its rodents, few events would be more prominent than this one.

That's because those 18 squirrels -- whose coats of lustrous black set them apart from the native animals -- were the beginning of a shift that has changed the complexion of Washington's backyard critters. Now, probably because of a slight evolutionary advantage conveyed with a black coat, the descendants of these squirrels have spread all the way into Rockville and Prince William County.

Seriously: Scientists say it's a real-life example of natural selection at work, which has rolled on for a century here without much public notice.

"It shows the spread of a gene within a population," said Richard W. Thorington Jr., a Smithsonian Institution researcher working on a book that includes a history of the District's black squirrels. "That is evolutionary change before your eyes."

The story of Washington's black squirrels -- which scientists say are just a color variation within the common gray squirrel species -- still has its shades of mystery.

For starters, nobody is quite certain why the Smithsonian decided to bring the critters here in the first place. The zoo's best guess, according to spokeswoman Peper Long, is that they were trying to restore the local population of gray squirrels, which had been decimated through hunting.

"Some people thought the gray squirrel was going to be extinct," Long said.

The Smithsonian's archives offer only the barest of facts: In 1902, and then again in 1906, the zoo got black squirrels from "the department of crown lands" in Ontario.

The next historical evidence pops up 15 years later, in the form of roadkill.

This week, in an upper story of the rotunda at the National Museum of Natural History, researcher Katie Ferrell pulled out a drawer full of stiff squirrel carcasses. It was a tiny sample from the museum's collection of 30,000.

"Cleveland Park, 1917," she said, reading the tag of one black animal that apparently met its fate under the wheels of a D.C. motorist. It was solid evidence that the squirrels had already left zoo grounds. Scientists say the black variety now comprises 5 to 25 percent of the squirrels in some neighborhoods.

Here's why some scientists believe the black squirrels were multiplying: In winter, their dark coats allowed them to retain heat from sunlight, leaving them less desperate for warmth than their lighter-colored cousins.

"If you can do it with solar heat, you don't need quite as much metabolic heat," and, therefore, need less food, Thorington said.

In some cases, this advantage seems to have outweighed the potential downside of a black coat -- being more conspicuous to hawks and other predators.

Thorington believes that black squirrels were slightly more likely to survive and reproduce, and their genes were passed on to succeeding generations.

Whatever the reason, observers say, black squirrels have been showing up in areas where only gray-colored specimens had been.

They appeared in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Chevy Chase in the 1960s, perhaps using the Rock Creek Stream Valley as a highway north from the District. One survey of Bethesda in 1990 found that about 25 percent of the squirrels there were black.

To the east, the squirrels crossed the city a few decades ago to colonize the National Arboretum and Capitol Hill. To the south, they made it across the Potomac River into Arlington, where naturalists say they've seen black squirrels since at least the 1980s.

Black squirrels even had a cameo in the area's best-known bit of squirrel research: the survey of animals in Lafayette Park in 1980 and 1981, which showed that this tourist landmark had the densest squirrel population known to science.


For those who haven't been to DC, Squirrels are a cute part of life in the area. When I was at Catholic University, I probably encountered dozens everyday. We also had the Black squirrels on campus and I always wondered how and why. They were a clear minority, but they were there and it didn't appear that they were a mutation, nor where there any intermediate colors. I really liked them so I will take this opportunity to officially thank the nation of Canada for the Black Squirrel imports.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Conservative Students Fighting to Legislate "Academic Freedom"

Whither Academic Freedom

College students who say they can't safely express conservative views on campus are taking their case to a setting they hope will be more hospitable: state legislatures.
But as lawmakers collect testimony and weigh what to do, advocacy groups say the real danger looms in legislative proposals that could, if passed, make professors afraid to raise controversial issues in class.

This year, lawmakers in at least 14 states have introduced bills that would limit what instructors can discuss in class and establish grievance procedures for students who take offense. A federal resolution has been introduced in the U.S. House.

Legislators in Tennessee, Ohio, Maine and Florida have summoned students to hearings. In Florida, one bill has the endorsement of two House committees.

Both sides say their goal is to defend freedom of speech on college campuses. Whether laws would help or hinder that goal, however, is a matter of sharp debate.

Vicky Cangelosi, a junior at Pennsylvania State University, says she's received poor grades in women's studies and public speaking classes solely because she argued a conservative viewpoint in her assignments. A state law, she says, would provide an avenue of recourse when a student feels victimized on the basis of her political beliefs.

"It takes away from my college experience at Penn State if I have to constantly be worrying about these things," says Cangelosi, head of the Penn State College Republicans. If the state had a law, she says, "then someone from the state could step in."


Absolutely nuts!!

In my undergraduate days, I proudly held a number of conservative positions with the best of them and was not shy about them or that those positions were based on my Christianity. Yet, I did not have a problem.

I took classes with some hardcore feminists and many, many liberal professors, and they all respected me. First of all, I worked very hard and if there was a point to the liberal side, I at least made it clear that I understood it and could articulate it. Secondly, even in my most rabid conservative days, I understood that the classroom was not the pulpit. It was not my place to speak from the privileged position of rare truth unattained by the ignorant sinful masses. Of course, my survival could've been becuase my professors sense my innate liberal tendencies. But at the time, they all knew that I wanted to be a priest, that I was pro-life, that I was not friends with the feminist and gay movement, I was a creationist, etc.

In fact a professor of mine liked my work in one of her history of science classes so much that she asked me to take a course with her on creation myths. Now those were fighting words, creation myths?? I smiled and never signed up, but the truth was that I was flattered that despite my apparent fundamentalism, she considered me a worthy student. Again, to be clear, in her class, my papers were not infrequently peppered with "God." But then she was stunned that I took the time to read through Darwin's Origin of Species and Huxley's work defending Darwin and that my conclusions were reasonable within the scope of what we were doing.

In a public speaking class, where we signed up to do a total of four presentations, all mine were about Christian stuff. In one, I argued against Partial birth abortion and pro-choice, in another I was arguing against the whole Catholic/Inquisition thing, etc. Yet, my professor, a very liberal lady, never penalized me and I got a very good grade.

If these conservative students are having a problem I suspect it is because they are try to convert people or preach to people. You have to realize that what you can get away with at a Bible study may very well be unacceptable in the academic world and not at all because of content.

Now, I did have a couple of run ins with staunch liberals. In a Social Work class, our militant feminist professor (was an adjunct) gave us all an assignment to go through current magazine ads and cut out the ones that were demeaning to women, i.e., bikini-chic on a copying machine. I was so offended by that to start with that I simply could not do it. I asked a friend of mine, with pro-feminist sympathies, to search for me and she found nothing to her surprise.

When the assingments were presented I just about gagged at the dumb examples (I'm still bitter about this) presented. Talk about reaching. There was one that was a family breakfast scene with the kids eating and getting ready to go to school, dad was rushing out the door with briefcase and mom in a professional business suit was at the sink/counter obviously working on stuff, probably breakfast for the kids. This ad was rounding condemned as sexist and harmful to women, etc. Apparently, since we couldn't find the sexy bikini chic on the copy machine, this was the next best thing. I refused to do the assingment and lost the points. I think it ultimately affected my grade, but so be it, I felt.

So anyway, this is nonsense about conservative students not feeling free to express themselves. Despite the conservative Catholic view of academics as restating dogmatism, the academy is about questioning, challenging and learning, and not about feeding your religious or political convictions. If you need religious or potlical affirmation, then get that at Church or elsewhere or go to Bob Jones U.

Chinese Stone Age Folks Used Diamonds Before Everyone Else

Chinese made first use of diamond

Stone age craftsmen in China were polishing jade objects using diamond 2,000 years before anyone else had the same idea, new evidence suggests.
Quartz was previously thought to be the abrasive used to polish ceremonial axes in late stone age, or neolithic, China.

But the investigations of a Chinese-US team of scientists indicate that quartz alone would not have been able to achieve such lustrous finishes. The team reports its diamond findings in the journal Archaeometry.

Harvard University physicist Peter Lu and colleagues studied four ceremonial burial axes, the oldest of which dates to about 4,500 years ago.

The team used X-ray diffraction and electron microprobe analysis. This determined that the most abundant mineral in the axes was corundum, known as ruby in its red form and sapphire in all other colours.

Hard case

The majority of prehistoric stone objects are traditionally thought to have been fashioned from rocks containing minerals no harder than quartz. But corundum is one of the hardest minerals known to science, second only to diamond.

What the researchers found even more intriguing were the finely polished surfaces of the axes, which reflect an image like a mirror.

To test their ideas, the researchers took a small stone sample from one of the axes, an artefact from the Liangzhou culture, and subjected it to polishing with diamond, alumina and silica, following modern techniques.

Using an atomic force microscope to examine the polished surfaces on a nanometre scale, the scientists found the diamond-polished surface most closely matched the surface from the ancient axe. Quartz could not have been the abrasive used by the ancient craftsmen.

"Our understanding of the first use of diamond is based on textual evidence from 500 BC in India. But even that - though probably right - is speculative. This is physical evidence a couple of thousand years earlier," Dr Lu told the BBC News website.

"Any experiment does not give you 100% certainty, but this is the only possibility that makes sense."

However, even with the best modern polishing technologies available, the research team could not achieve a surface as flat and smooth as that on the ancient axe. The authors speculate that the use of diamond and corundum abrasives could be linked to an explosion in finely polished jade artefacts during the Chinese neolithic.

The use of corundum could have slashed production times while diamond could have added the finishing touches, they suggest. Quartz, previously thought to have been the neolithic lapidary's abrasive of choice, is only slightly harder than jade.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My Current Husserl and Newman Project

Christopher asked if I could expound on my dissertation which is a study of both men, Husserl and Newman. Edmund Husserl is a 20th century German philosoper and founder of the school of thought known as Phenomenology. John Henry Newman is well known to Catholics and Christians, he was a Catholic convert whose life spanned the 19th century.

Husserl's project is really a fulfillment of Descartes goal to radically ground the sciences, and all knowledge, so that they rest on sound epistemological grounds. Descartes clearly went off course, but not necessarily because he was wrong, but Husserl would say because he didn't go far enough and was not completely honest with himself.

Descartes argued that since all the authorities he had believed since his youth had been shown to have lied, even if only once, (including his senses), then he is going to doubt everything because no one or nothing can be indubitably trusted anymore. But then he runs into the problem that if he doubts everything it is him, i.e., the ego, the "I", who is performing the act of doubting which then radically excludes the ego from the world that is doubted. In fact it then establishes the ego, the "I" as the one indubitable foundation of knowledge. This is when he does the "ego cogito sum," "I think therefore I am." (Or as Scottie Pippen would say, "I think therefore I jam.") BTW, Descartes was not being entirely original here. Augustine basically did the same thing.

Okay, fair enough, this is fine. The problem that Husserl had with Descartes was the content of that "I," in the "I think therefore I am." Husserl believed that Descartes backed off from investigating precisely what the ego, the "I" was all about. H. felt that if Descartes did, he would have found, not a single solitary ego, but rather, an ego correlated with an entire world that is given or manifested to it. In other words, the life-world of that ego, the world the ego exists in, remains as part of that "I." The tricky part here is that it is not just the world per se, but the world as given to, or as uniquely experienced by, the ego. It is the "objective" world, but in purely subjective terms. So then "the world" and fundamental belief is actually restored because that is the default mode in this life-world.

This was what Husserl called the transcendental reduction. Getting down to the that indubitable subjectivity that captures true objectivity. Husserl was so obsessed with this that he had three or four different ways of getting to the "transcendental reduction." The aforementioned way is the Cartesian Reduction which he discussed in his lectures called Cartesian Meditations.

Now, the work I am focused on is his Formal and Transcendental Logic. I should note that the conventional wisdom is that Husserl went from being a realist in the first part of his career to being an idealist in the latter part. The Cartesian Meditations and FTL are from his "idealist" years. (Apparently this turn to idealism was a little tough for Edith Stein and friends to handle).

In FTL, Husserl's project here is a something of a phenomenology of logic: how logic arises, what it is, how it manifests, etc. In this book he achieves the transcendental reduction by means of propositions. He shows how logical propositions arise in our everyday lives and then how the process of doubt is introduced and leads to higher levels of critical understanding until we attain that much desired transcendental viewpoint. It is very clever actually.

I'm rambling. Anyway, to the dissertation.

The title is A Phenomenological Theology of the Trinity: A Study in John Henry Newman and Edmund Husserl . Basically, the dissertation is about Newman's Grammar of Assent, particularly chapter 5, which talks about how we come to believe in the Holy Trinity, especially for those without sophisticated theological backgrounds. To show how this happens Newman basically resorts to a deceptively simple "subjective" form of logic. What struck me about this was that at the same time I was studying the Grammar, I was studying Husserl's Formal and Transcendental Logic and there was something similar in their methods in how they see logic, propositions and their relation to truth and language.

I'm still teasing out a lot of the details. I have general ideas but the problem with these things is that sometimes scrutiny reveals that the fit wasn't has tight as you thought. I did write a comparative paper between both men for a hermeneutics class and I think there is stuff there, but it'll take a while.

On quick final note. Husserl was a trained mathematician. In fact, his PhD was in mathematics and his initial work was in the philosophy of mathematics. Husserl believes that mathematics does enjoy ideal existence, i.e., it is something, but it has its origins in subjectivity. So for instance, numbers don't just exist, they arise from counting. If I recal, you start with ordinal numbers, "this is the first stone, next, the second, then the third, etc" and then cardinal numbers, i.e,, one, two, three, four, etc are abstractions from the ordering. As far as operations such as addition, subtraction, mulitplication, etc, he deals with those. I think he does have a problem with "zero," but so does just about everyone. Anyway, Husserl was always a mathematician and logician at heart.

Newman also, was mathematician at heart. Newman actually co-wrote or assisted to a significant degree on the basic logic text of the time by his mentor, Richard Whately. So Newman knew his stuff. His friends frequently criticized his mathematical bent which was what drove him to see things even out in the end. Newman felt there had to be a certain neatness to things and his Anglican friend, Keble, believed it was his "undoing." It should be said though, that the level of scholarship at Oxford at the time was child's play compared with what was going on in Germany.

Anyway, as I iron things out, I hope to (very infrequently) hope to post on my Newman Blog and my Husserl blog. If I do, I'll note it here. BTW, I'd make a great professor since I do a horrible job of explaining anything.

Interview with Faithful Progressive

Faithful Progressive has been doing weekly interviews with progressive people of faith and I am honored to have been interviewed by FP.

Click here for the interview.

The Quiet Space

For, as I have said, the Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not,—like some well in a retired and shady place, difficult of access. He is the greater part of his time by himself and when he is in solitude, that is his real state. What he is when left to himself and to his God, that is his true life.

John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons, Volume V, Sermon 5

Monday, May 16, 2005

Mystery Piano Man Found in Soaking Wet Clothes Still Unidentified

Fantastic Response to Piano Man

A helpline set up to identify a mystery man who stunned carers by giving a virtuoso classical piano performance has been inundated with calls.
The man has not said a word since police picked him up wandering the streets of Sheerness, Kent, in a soaking wet suit and tie on 7 April.

His social worker Michael Camp said the man, in his 20s or 30s, is usually very anxious but "comes alive" at the piano. Orchestras around Europe are being contacted to see if they know him.

The National Missing Persons Helpline is appealing to anyone who recognises the man to come forward. Mr Camp said there had been a "fantastic" response. "We have had one definite lead, but I haven't had time to follow it up yet. "A name has been given of a possible person from the Sussex area.

"We had one of these before, from the local area, and it sounded promising but... we'll just have to wait and see."

The man's talent came to light after staff at the Medway Maritime Hospital gave him a pen and paper in the hope he would write his name. Instead the patient, dubbed The Piano Man, drew very detailed pictures of a grand piano. The man shocked staff with a performance of classical music after Mr Camp showed him the piano in the hospital's chapel.

Mr Camp said: "When we took him to the chapel piano it really was amazing. He has not spoken since the day we picked him up. "He does not make any sounds but I think I can communicate with him through tiny nods." The man has since written music, which has been verified as genuine.

Mr Camp added: "It is extraordinary. The first time we took him down to the piano he played for several hours, non-stop."

Several lines of inquiry have been followed, and the hospital brought in interpreters to see if the mystery patient was from Eastern Europe. He is now being held in a secure mental health unit in north Kent while an assessment is carried out. Mr Camp said he was "extremely distressed" and may have suffered a trauma.

'Very frightened'

Karen Dorey-Rees, adult mental health manager for the West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust, said the mystery man was very vulnerable. "He is not talking at all, he is very frightened," she said.

"We are aware that he is a very vulnerable man and we would be putting him in a dangerous situation if we let him go." She said that the labels had been removed from every item of clothing the man was wearing when he was found on The Broadway in Minster, Sheerness.

The case has drawn comparisons with the 1996 film Shine which depicts the story of acclaimed pianist David Helfgott who suffered a nervous breakdown. Ms Dorey-Rees was unable to say what music he had played.

"Nobody was skilled enough to recognise the music, they just knew it was classical music and he played very well." Anyone who has information about The Piano Man is urged to call the National Missing Persons Helpline on 0500 700700 .

I once heard an NPR report on prescription drug abuse among orchestra people. They spoke with a few who made it clear that it auditioning and performing is so unbelieveably stressfull. I hope if this guy suffers from mental illness that he can let go of that stress and work on taking care of his mental health.

I used to play an instrument on the Church scence and also Jazz/fusion scene and it was extremely relaxing and fun. The reason is that jazz and gospel and many other types of music allow for self interpretation, a mistake could work in favor of the music. But with classical pieces, everyone knows what the piece is supposed to sound like and if you get it wrong. I suppose if your livelihood were riding on such perfection, sound mental health may not a be luxury you could afford.


I ran into this post by Den Mother on fraternities and discrimination, i.e., that the very notion of a fraternity is discriminatory, yet what is so bad about it, especially since it is affirming for the women involved.

But back to the original point. Is membership in a single-sex society by definition sexist? Do such groups discriminate? They do discriminate, in the same way that Mensa or the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Girls Club or my town's local India Center discriminate. In all those cases, participation is restricted to those who possess a characteristic outside their control. But in my experience, the effect is so overwhelmingly positive and opportunities for involvement in similar groups by either sex so readily available that the charge of sexism seems absurd—

The first thing I should say is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with discrimination. The problem is with unjust discrimination or "sinful" discrimination. I say "sinful" to represent discrimination motivated by an evil desire, i.e, racial, sexist, etc. In this case, i.e., "sinful" discrimination, the motivation, if not explicit intent, is to offend human dignity.

Anything worth anything is essentially discriminatory and that's a good thing. For instance, the educational system discriminates against people who do not pass exams. Thus, those who pass can move on and those who don't remain in place. That in itself is fine. You can multiply the examples, i.e, senior citizen discounts, etc.

The problem is that the word "discrimination" has taken on a life of its own and is evoked as bad without reference to context. Sometimes the solution to the problem of unjust or sinful discrimination requires discrimination itself. This is not a problem. The morality of discrimination is totally dependent on context.

What we have is a product of the shout down, media sound bite culture, where it is now all about wining the PR and media wars where the virtue is uncomplicated brevity, so that it is easier to make the other person look wrong than actually show that they are wrong. "Discrimination" is a guaranteed way effective jab and many times deserved, but it all comes back to bite you in the butt when you actually try to nuance the issue. Quite frankly, I wish Civil rights folks would drop the word simply because it is misleading in its current use and the stand-alone, decontextualized concept of discrimination is now underming the remedies put in place to combat unjust discrimination, e.g., the affirmative action fight.

Pentecost/Church Birthday

At mass yesterday, the priest begun with "happy birthday" and then explained to us bewildered congregants about the Pentecost/birthday connection. I also saw a few Pentecost-birthday posts on a few sites in Christian blogsphere.

I have to say that this is the very first time in my life that I have ever heard that. Weird, uh! I think I see where it is coming from but it still doesn't quite sound right.

My criteria for Christianity, by extension "Church" membership/inclusion is twofold, confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. As soon as the resurrection occured and Jesus ascended to the Father, not Acts 1, but John 20, which was right after the resurrection, then it was possible to believe that God raised him from the dead. In fact, you could believe before that, it's just that the Bible presents the priestly aspect of Christ going into the holy place in heaven and doing his priestly thing on our behalf.

Anyway, my point is that Pentecost is the start of something, but I can't get with the Church birthday thing only because as soon as Christ was raised and people believed, there was a Church. I'm not making a huge point here because it really doesn't make any difference. This is one of those, "so how does this affect the price of fish?" type observations.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Alchohol Worse for Female Brains


Women are far more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage than men, scans have shown.
CT pictures of the brains of more than 150 volunteers revealed how women come to more harm and quicker than men when they drink heavily.

Scientists have suspected for some time that men might be more resilient to booze than women. The German research gives visible evidence of this.

The University of Heidelberg team published their findings in Alcoholism

In the study, around half of the volunteers were alcoholics. All of the volunteers had brain scans at the start and end of the six week study.

Those who were alcoholic were helped to "dry out" during the six weeks.

When the researchers analysed the brain scan results they found obvious evidence of brain damage among the heavy drinkers.

The drinkers had smaller brains, due to loss or atrophy, than the controls.

Brain loss

Women who were heavy drinkers lost the same amount of brain volume as the drinking men, but over a much shorter period of alcohol dependence.

Lead author Professor Karl Mann said although men generally drink more alcohol, women are probably develop alcohol dependence and adverse consequences more readily.

Other alcohol-related disorders, such as heart problems, depression and liver disease, also occurred earlier in women than men, he said.

"Women typically start drinking later in life, consume less...and one could reason that women are less affected by alcohol.

"But there is evidence for a faster progress of the events leading to dependence among female alcoholics and an earlier onset of adverse consequences of alcoholism.

"This suggests that women may be more vulnerable to chronic alcohol consumption."

For these reasons, he said it was even more important to spot and treat alcohol abuse early in women.

A spokesman from the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: "This study supports previous findings that women experience many alcohol-related harms before men at the same level of drinking.

"These results are particularly concerning given the rising alcohol consumption in UK women, and the increased risk of alcohol dependence that goes with it.

"This worryingly suggests that alcohol-related damage experienced by women in the UK is set to increase rapidly in the coming years."